Monday, March 22, 2010

Ravenna's Stunning Mosaics

Who has ever heard of Ravenna? Rome, yes. Venice, a must see. Florence, be still my heart. But my oh my the 1500-year-old churches decorated with Byzantine mosaics were some of the most spectacular Italian treasures. The charming bike-friendly town of Ravenna is only a 90 minute train ride from Venice. After seeing it I would certainly render it a must-see day trip on any Northern Italy itinerary. There are only so many gondola rides you can take through those Venetian canals!
We arrived at the Basilica di San Vitale first thing in the morning and in we went for our glimpse of the lavish mosaics of gold and glass chips the size of your fingernail. They gleamed beautiful and bright. I felt lucky because we were the only ones there, surrounded by these amazing mosaics.
The church's octagonal design - clearly Eastern - inspired the construction of the Hagia Sofia as well as the church in Aix-la-Chapelle.Even Connor couldn't stop staring up! We all left with cricks in our necks. Yet deeply touched by the marvelous work of art.I hesitate to even clutter these images with words. It is hard for me to believe, even now, that these mosaics remain so spiritual and in tact from the A.D. 540?!? How is that possible?
It would be hard not to feel close to God in this special sacred spot. It is not enormous like many European cathedrals, rather a quiet, intimate spot wrapping you in golden warmth.
Here is a closer look at the ceiling...
Hard to really do the mosaic detail justice through flat computer images, but this picture comes closest...You feel as if Jesus is looking down directly at you from the peak of this arch...
We stepped out into the sunlight from this church, took a deep breath marveling at what we just witnessed and walked into the nearby Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. There we re-gasped.Rick writes, "Just across the courtyard is this tiny, humble-looking mausoleum, with the oldest - and, to many, the best - mosaics in Ravenna. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is reputed to be the burial place of this daughter, sister, and mother of emperors, who died in A.D. 450."
My favorite part was these deep blue stars along the ceiling. It would prove an enduring theme throughout northern Italian architecture in our travel days ahead; these honestly seemed to sparkle - even is a crypt. The light in the alabaster windows was just enough and just right. It was only one small room. And again we were all alone (I can imagine the allure would be lost crammed in with other tourists). I would never have dreamt so much could be contained in a place so small.
I did spy this roll of golden glass outside. Guess repairs are constant. What painstaking work! Anyway, it was the most dazzling, unusual roll ever.
Strolling the streets of Ravenna we saw marvelous fashion and flowers. Connor begged Kirk to buy this dress for me. Not sure where I would wear it, but it was a cute sentiment nonetheless!We came across Dante's tomb. That famous poet, you know. We were quite perplexed by this mound. Do you think they buried him standing up?!?
Finally it was on to the Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. Truthfully - by this time I was dragging and in need of lunch and very skeptical that this second mosaic church could hold a candle to the first. I plodded along as we navigated listening to my stomach grumble. Let's just say my stomach was quiet as soon as we walked in...
Each of these enormous side panels depicts a beloved story: one a procession of haloed virgins, each bringing gifts to the Madonna and the Christ Child. Opposite, Christ is on his throne with five angels, awaiting a solemn procession of 26 martyrs.This photo with Connor looking up and the big tour group beside makes me smile. Kirk is hard at work studying the guidebook and me snapping photos. That pretty much sums it up.

Just look at the excruciating detail. It was a sight to behold.

Ravenna was a magical new part of Italy for me. And one I am so thankful we had the chance to see dazzle.


Jenna said...

Looks amazing Reid! I think I will have to add Ravenna to my travel "dream list". I don't know how, but the list keeps getting longer and longer! :D

BelgiumBound said...

Wow! I loved your pictures! Stunning is definitely the right word!